It is your responsibility to make your religious tradition . . . more truly religious by the time you are through with it. That’s the great challenge we face.
— Brother David Steindl-Rast, “The Shadow in Christianity”
God, it seems, has left interpretive gaps in the universe itself, and therefore also in the Torah. The world and the text await interpretation.
— Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep
In observing reactions to the Ordain Women movement, an argument I have seen again and again—even from some folks who are open to female ordination—is that such a change can come only from the top down, from God directing church leaders. As such, it is improper for church members to agitate for change.
I believe this view is inconsistent with patterns of creation we see in scripture and with the Mormon understanding of eternal growth and progression.
Just as our Heavenly Parents did not create the universe ex nihilo, without any pre-existing materials, neither have They yet completed the process of creation. This would be antithetical to their purpose for creating the earth, which is pedagogical. The world is a tool for helping us become more like our Heavenly Parents. They invite us to join in its creation so we, too, can learn to be creators.
God asked Adam to complete the creation of animals by naming them. God required Eve to make a choice that determined the very direction of the earth’s history. In the present moment, the work of creation continues: birds build nests, gophers tunnel, and humans erect skyscrapers and plant trees and perform acts of kindness and write poems and make love and produce babies who then continue the process. Creation will not be over until the end of time.
The restoration of the gospel fits into this pattern of creation. Our Heavenly Parents started the ball rolling and gave direction, but They left much of the work and decision making to Their friends, Joseph Smith and the Saints.
Because our Heavenly Parents have made us partners in creation—because They leave some details for us to work out—there is considerable opportunity for hurtful traditions to develop. We have seen this in the withholding of the priesthood from Saints of African descent. Like any good teacher, our Heavenly Parents do not immediately correct our mistakes. Rather, they allow us to see the consequences of those mistakes and learn from them.
Why is this mistake-correcting not the sole province of church leaders? Why has the thinking about church structure and policy not been done when our leaders speak? Because the church, like the world, is a pedagogical tool for everyone to learn to create, not just church leaders. We must all think. We must all listen to the Spirit. We must all search the scriptures. We must all determine the direction of the church.
The church is a partnership between leaders and members, not a command chain. As members, we must claim the role of creators-in-training that we have so long improperly ceded to church leaders. We have not only the power but the responsibility to continue transforming our imperfect church into Zion.
So is female ordination the best direction for the church to go in? I can only say that it feels utterly right to me when I pray and read the scriptures. It feels like the work of God in the world. Others feel differently. When we come together as church members and leaders to work this out, we will be acting as true co-creators with God and heirs of the kingdom.